By Tirthankar Mitra
Quota for Marathas, a decades old issue remains a problem vexing successive dispensations in Maharashtra. If Manoj Jarange-Patil, the leader spearheading the agitation for quotas has been persuaded by chief minister Eknath Shinde to put the stir on hold for now, a lasting solution does not seem to be in sight in foreseeable future.
Not seeking to be left behind in backward class/tribe quota Raj which more often than not escalates socio-economic uplift for its beneficiaries, the Marathas want to be identified as Kunbis. It would make way for quotas for them under Other Backward Classes (OBC)s.
A sharp Maratha-OBC polarisation have been created following the demand for inclusion as OBCs. The Marathas have traditionally been closer to Congress and NCP while the OBCs allegiance have been with BJP and Shiv Sena.
After the Supreme Court struck down the quotas for Marathas in May, 2021, the demand for inclusion as OBCs surfaced. Earlier, the Marathas were entitled for quotas under the state’s Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act 2018.
It was a topsy-turvy affair as in June, 2019, the Bombay High Court upheld the SEBC quota. However what had been 16 per cent quota in education was held to be not “justifiable” and reduced to 12 per cent and it stood at 13 per cent in government jobs.
Except in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, the total reservations should not exceed 50 per cent, the court stated. This was subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency of the administration.
Time was when Maratha quota went beyond 50 per cent ceiling set by the court. But in May, 2021 provisions of the Maharashtra law providing reservation beyond this ceiling was struck down by a five judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.
In April this year, the apex court turned down a state government plea for a review of the decision. Thereafter, the government said that it would file a curative petition and further stated that a commission would be set up to carry out a detailed survey of the community’s “backwardness”.
Marathas are historically identifiable as ‘warrior’ caste who had been combatants of the third battle of Panipat. Principally they comprise peasant and landowning groups making up nearly one third of the population of the state of Maharashtra and are thus crucial segment who can be a game changer in the state in the Lok Sabha elections next year.
Marathas speak Marathi though not all Marathi speaking people are Marathas. But Marathas are the dominant political community in Maharashtra and are not to be rubbed the wrong way by any political party.
Since the inception of the state of Maharashtra in 1960, 12 of the 20 chief ministers have been Marathas. Even the present incumbent, Shinde is one. But despite Maratha hegemony in the highest political sphere in the state, the economic well being of the middle class and lower middle class have dipped. This is the fallout of the division of holdings and its effect leading to dwindling of income triggering the demand for inclusion in the OBC.
The community’s demand could not be satisfied over the decades by successive Maratha chief ministers. Ever since the first protest rally led by Annasaheb Patil in 1981, the reservation issue took a deep political tinge.
Two sets of rallies taken out by Maratha Kranti Morcha in support of the demand were taken between 2016 to 2018. Violence and bloodshed together with alleged suicides marked the second set.
The state government was on a back foot following an upsurge of support for Jarange-Patil’s fast after police clashed with protestors on September 1 this year leading to injuries to 40 protestors and policemen. Bandh calls were given in Kolhapur, Pune, Dhule, Buldhana, Amravati and Nashik.
Seeking to check the downslide in popularity, deputy chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis apologised for police action. Copies of government resolution(GR) based on Cabinet decision to issue Kunbi certificates to certain members of the Maratha community were given to Jarange-Patil.
But Jarange-Patil was not satisfied saying that the new GR did not satisfy his demand. However, he withdrew the fast after chief minister Shinde requested him and asked for time to sort out the legal complexities of the matter.
The overall picture in Maharashtra is more complicated now. Political equations have changed in the last one year with the Shiv Sena splitting from MVA while the BJP have closed ranks with the Shinde faction of the Sena together with the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP. The agitation for quotas for Marathas may have been put on hold for now. But it may erupt any time in near future. (IPA Service)